The World Series is nearly over. Albert Pujols is a game away from becoming a free agent. Prince Fielder is already there. The St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers will duel for the 2011 title over the next two nights, but as they do, the other 28 teams will continue to hunker down and prepare to improve themselves in 2012.
This offseason should be fun to watch. Two GM vacancies and a number of managerial changes will change the direction of franchises. Legendary players will retire; others will take one last trip around their circuit. Pujols, Fielder, CC Sabathia and at least one other player will hit nine-figure jackpots. Big trades will happen, and I mean BIG trades—perhaps bigger ones than we have seen in three or four years in the Hot Stove League.
Fire up those third-base coaching assignment fantasy leagues. Grab a pencil and paper for your free-agent pick 'em contests. The future is now. Here are 50 bold predictions for the offseason to come in Major League Baseball.
Kim Ng is a very talented baseball executive, a long-time assistant GM and general front-office whiz who in March accepted a job with the MLB league office in New York.
Ng is the first name to come up for every GM opening, but always, it seems, for the wrong reasons. People talk about how Ng would be the first woman ever to hold such a position, and how that's good for baseball in the broad, societal view. They talk about how she's very gifted as an arbitration practitioner, able to save teams as much as $2 million per year by finding excellent research and comparisons that favor the club in the arbitration process.
None of that, though, bears directly upon what kind of GM she would be. Baseball will not suddenly swing its doors open to a flood of young women who have been beating down its doors for years, because no such population exists. There have been for some time, and likely always will be, a small group of talented women who love the game working hard in front offices around the league, but the growth of that demographic will happen about as quickly regardless of Ng's promotion, or not.
Arbitration is largely the purview of an assistant GM, a role at which Ng has already excelled. She's great at what she has done up until now, but we simply do not know whether she would make a good GM or not based on available information.
That said, Ng will finally get her chance this winter, and bravo for whichever team (I say it will be Baltimore) takes that chance. She could well be an elite general manager; it's just that analysts and media mavens will focus on all the wrong reasons.
Three years ago, Francisco Rodriguez got three years and $37 million from the New York Mets to abandon the Angels. They have not had a solid closer since, and bullpen inconsistency was one key reason they dropped out of contention in the AL West over the final two weeks.
Arte Moreno and the Angels' new GM will find a K-Rod-sized deal in the budget in order to lure in a much more projectable, consistent relief ace in Papelbon.
Arte Moreno probably needs to change his philosophy on free agency, which calls essentially for a one-and-done approach to bidding on free agents. More importantly, though, the Angels need to fine-tune their player-development paradigm, which has produced a few superstars but several flops in recent seasons.
Tony LaCava, a Blue Jays assistant, is perpetually devoted to that process, and fits the mold perfectly in Anaheim.
This move will not catch Wade off his guard. The Astros GM signed his own death warrant as top man by executing a fire sale at the trade deadline this season, because quite simply, Ed Wade is not a rebuilding sort of executive.
That said, Wade did carry out the trades well, and got a lot of talent in return for Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn. He has done enough to keep his job through the transition to new owner Jim Crane, and though Crane will rightly fire Wade before February 1, it should be noted that Wade nobly executed his office even as a lame duck.
One major trend this winter is going to be protracted negotiation between several star players and their current clubs, with Lincecum at or near the head of that class. As his two-year, $23-million contract expires at season's end, Lincecum will face a choice between signing what would have to be the largest non-free-agent contract in MLB history or going to arbitration.
It says here that Lincecum will choose the latter, based on his stated preference for short-term obligations and on his historic potential income over the next several years if he does not give away his leverage.
La Russa has gone 'round the bend. It's never been clearer than in this World Series that his egomania has now far outstripped whatever benefit his teams can derive from his way and his ability to manage personalities in the clubhouse.
Once La Russa is done giving away the Series that might most define his legacy, he will resign from his post and comfortably await an ill-deserved Hall of Fame induction.
With John Lackey shelved and question marks circling Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz at all times, the Boston Red Sox need some reinforcements on the mound. Meanwhile, the Astros (under whatever management) will renew efforts this winter to move Wandy Rodriguez and his big contract somewhere.
The match is a good one, especially because the Red Sox (despite exaggerated rumors of their demise) still have a ton of expendable talent. Ryan Kalish is on hand and ready if needed next season, so Reddick is easily movable.
At his introductory press conference Tuesday, Theo Epstein said he would meet with manager Mike Quade in person within the week to discuss Quade's future. That should sound ominous to Quade. No vote of confidence came.
Pointing to Epstein's choice to keep Grady Little for a season after taking over the Red Sox in 2003, many analysts have opined that Epstein might retain Quade as well. Lost in the shuffle of that reasoning is the fact that Epstein then watched Little give away the ALCS in 2003, and that one is not an especially compelling sample size. Epstein will fire Quade. Book it.
With Quade gone, the Cubs will have some hiring to do. They should have no trouble nabbing franchise icon Ryne Sandberg as manager or bench coach, though adding Mike Maddux as pitching coach would be a neater and tougher trick.
Those two would be important additions, but the Cubs also need to focus on retaining Greg Maddux in some capacity. Many felt Maddux returned to the Cubs as special assistant only as a favor to now-ousted GM Jim Hendry, but if Epstein and company can coax Maddux back as an assistant, it will be a coup.
Mark Grace would be another asset, as his hitting style is neatly compatible with that of Rudy Jaramillo. He would have to coach one of the bases, but could offer a good bit of advice to many Cubs batters in tandem with Jaramillo when not fulfilling that role.
As bench coach and right-hand man to baseball's best manager in Joe Maddon, Dave Martinez has drawn the eyes of many as a managerial candidate for any opening.
The Red Sox need someone with Martinez's experience and reputation, not to mention his energy.
The Indians' forays into free agency are rarer than Jamey Carroll home runs, but this winter, that could change a bit. The Indians competed for a big chunk of last season, and feel as though they can do it next year, too.
They probably do not feel as though they can do so with Matt LaPorta at first base, though, as evidenced by their election to demote LaPorta in August, before they were even entirely out of the race.
Carlos Pena can fill that hole offensively, and he's an excellent influence on a potentially competitive but very young clubhouse, to boot. Pena will fit like a glove in Cleveland.
Ramirez is a statuesque defender, afraid to stray more than five feet or so from the foul line. He sure can hit, though, and since the Marlins are looking to spend money and make a good-will overture to their fans this winter, Ramirez is a good fit: He plays third base after all, if only in name, and that's a position of weakness for Miami.
As hard as it will be for Mets fans to swallow, it is time to rebuild in Queens. The NL East is getting to be about as loaded as its junior counterpart, and New York simply isn't in position to be good during the life of current big contracts like those of David Wright and Johan Santana.
Santana is immovable, but for Wright, the Mets could land two solid young players under team control, and in this deal, the Angels will get a third baseman capable of putting their lineup back into balance and supporting a supernal duo atop the starting rotation.
Health remains a question mark for Beltran, but manning an AL outfield and getting a few days off every fortnight to play DH would do him a world of good. The Red Sox will be motivated buyers for Beltran, with J.D. Drew out the door and...
We've all heard the gossip, Ortiz having swatted the lid off this pot weeks ago. Ortiz will entertain offers from the Red Sox, but he might not even find tremendous interest on that end of the phone.
The Yankees should keep DH open for Jesus Montero, or at least to rest the various problematic body parts of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, but they might well not be smart enough for that. Ortiz certainly would fit in Yankee Stadium nicely.
C.J. Wilson has cost himself money this month. How much money? At one time, the baseball world was asking the question with a straight face: Would Wilson get a sniff of $100 million?
Long gone are those dreams. Wilson will get something eerily similar to the deal Ryan Dempster got from the Chicago Cubs after the 2008 season, a year in which Dempster moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation. Wilson has posted two years at a similar level since moving into the rotation, but fatigue seems to have become a serious issue lately and it will hold Wilson back this winter.
Once you offer your resignation to your boss, you're not long for your job. Even if the guy doesn't accept that gesture, you have a limited window after that, especially if you choose to make that offer public later on. Kenny Williams had an awful year atop the White Sox's baseball hierarchy, and before Spring Training, he will voluntarily give up the reins in favor of wunderkind assistant Rick Hahn.
A huge number of teams could get involved in the bidding for Yu Darvish this winter, as the Japanese pitcher figures to be posted by his current team and (thereby) made available to Stateside clubs.
He is a phenom, very possibly the exception to every rule fans and analysts use to define Japanese hurlers. Whether that turns out to be true or not, though, this much we know: Darvish will cost big bucks.
The Blue Jays covet him; they have the money; and they are well-positioned to contend over the next two years or so, the more so if they nab Darvish.
Though it ended bitterly, the Brewers had a great season in 2011. They had a huge season. Revenue streamed into Miller Park, and the organization will benefit hugely over the next few years.
Prince Fielder? Forget it. But the team should and will extend the contract of Greinke, who led all of MLB in strikeout rate and had a deceptively excellent year in 28 starts.
He has $13.5 million due in 2012; Milwaukee will lock him down for three or four years beyond that one.
Justin Upton went first overall in the 2005 MLB amateur draft; Ryan Braun went fifth; Troy Tulowitzki went seventh. Upton is signed through 2015 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but compared to Braun and Tulowitzki, that's nothing. Both men are locked up with their current franchises through 2020.
They will each make huge money over the second half of this decade. Upton deserves similar treatment, and this winter, the Diamondbacks will give it to him, extending him five more seasons at an average annual salary around $20 million.
With Tim Lincecum controlled through 2013, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner in place, Barry Zito all but immovable and Ryan Vogelsong a sure bet to return in 2012, Jonathan Sanchez projects as the Giants' fifth or sixth starter next season. Given that premise, it's hard to justify the $7 million-plus that Sanchez would get in arbitration this winter.
The Giants might search for trade partners, but the safer bet is that they end up having to simply cut ties and make Sanchez a free agent. That hurts C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle in terms of income potential.
I've written before about the problems posed by the potential institution of a hard slotting system for the amateur draft in baseball, which would artificially hold down signing bonuses but imperil the entire system through a straining of labor laws.
The collective bargaining agreement that will be announced shortly after the World Series, though, does not figure to include such a provision, as it has lost steam over recent months.
We might call it 'the AL East rule,' but Bud Selig wants a fifth playoff team per league and one-game Wild Card round to be part of his legacy to the game. It's a terrible idea, as infeasible as it is cheap and inequitable, but it will probably happen eventually. With labor peace being a priority, though, and given the hurried assembly of the plan over the second half of the 2011 season, it's hard to imagine that will come to fruition this winter.
Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron did a terrific job of summing up the myriad reasons that second-tier free agents will struggle to find big deals this winter. Jackson hardly escapes that characterization, but he should rate a multi-year deal this winter somewhere.
The Nationals, who want a pitcher this winter but don't figure to outbid the Yankees or Red Sox for the big names, are as good a candidate as any to give Jackson his money.
Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes ensure Barmes will sign somewhere under the radar this winter, getting less money than he deserves as a solid glove guy up the middle with average pop to boot.
The Brewers, whom one can only hope will be bright enough to decline their $6-million option on Yuniesky Betancourt, are the best fit for Barmes, and if they land him, it will be a coup. Barmes would instantly help solidify the league's worst defensive infield.
Matt Kemp's mom did not raise a fool. Kemp won the 2011 NL Hank Aaron Award, and is the presumptive NL MVP. He has a chance to hit a $200-million jackpot next winter if he simply goes year-to-year through 2012 and has something like that breakout season.
The Dodgers have made Kemp a priority this winter, but no deal is forthcoming. Kemp is too savvy, and too ambitious for that.
At long last, Clayton Kershaw will make it to arbitration this winter, after two seasons as a grossly underpaid true ace for the Dodgers.
Since Kemp will not bend to Ned Colletti's whims, though, the Dodgers GM will turn to Kershaw, and hand him something like $65 million over five years (part of that a club option) in order to gain cost certainty in another area.
Buehrle hinted at a vague intention to retire at the expiration of his contract after this season, but backed off, and after Ozzie Guillen's departure, that kind of drama probably does not need to move further.
Buehrle will be back in 2012, and since the Cardinals do not seem to have room for him in their rotation, it should be with the White Sox. Buehrle doesn't deserve much cash, but for sticking around to be a franchise icon, he will probably get two years and $20 million or so.
Andre Ethier has posted a 120 or better OPS+ in each of the last four seasons, but the Rangers do not need another hitter. No, what they need is another left-handed hitter, and fortuitously, Ethier fits that description, too.
The Dodgers need to unload and rebuild, and Ethier should be a part of the winter exodus that will restock their farm system and free them of financial burdens as they make what will be a painful eventual ownership transition. The Rangers can slot Ethier in as their left fielder/DH and use him strategically to mash right-handed pitching in a friendly park.
GM Ruben Amaro and the Phillies already declined their $16-million option on Oswalt for next season, but that doesn't mean the team will not attempt to re-sign him.
Oswalt is still a solid pitcher, and since the Phillies' farm system is not an inspiration, they should be focused on retaining him and making another run next season with their excellent pitching staff.
Having closed out an affordable three-year deal that ran from 2009-11, Hamels enters this offseason ready to get his money from Amaro and the Phillies.
In recent seasons, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver have signed extensions from similar positions for roughly five years and $85 million. That's about right for Hamels, too.
Rollins remains a stellar defensive shortstop, a fine hitter for the position and a good veteran makeup guy, but he will fall short of an eight-figure AAV yet again this winter for a simple reason: He does not stay healthy.
Suitors will be few and far between for Rollins, simply because not many teams will take interest in a shortstop who has missed 94 games the past two years but wants a four-year deal. The Phillies will gladly take their long-time star back, but he will not get the big raise he wants.
Michael Cuddyer is headed out the door, and once he does, Minnesota will need not only a bat capable of partially replacing his production, but also a veteran who can preach about the Twins way and keep the clubhouse positive.
Cuddyer and the Rockies are a match made a mile high. (Ugh. Can't believe I just did that. Coming down in 3... 2... 1...)
Todd Helton not being a sure thing, the Rockies need durable and effective depth at first base. Their outfield having become a sort of five-man muddle the past few years, they also need a regular corner outfielder to play alongside Carlos Gonzalez.
Versatility is one more perk, as they surely want someone capable of occasionally grabbing an infield glove and taking over for their lesser lights, Ian Stewart and Ty Wigginton. Cuddyer meets every criterion.
Michael Young is overrated, and no one knows it better than Rangers GM Jon Daniels. He will have virtually no place on next year's team, as the team brings in more talent and continues to pump its excellent farm system for talented position players like Leonys Martin. Young is still useful, and his contract got much less ugly after a sensational 2011 in the batting average and RBI departments. That makes it a perfect time to sell high, and Daniels will not miss such an opportunity.
The Rockies are not eager to make Ian Stewart an everyday fixture, so Young will be on their radar (as he was last winter), and the two sides will find common ground on this second try.
Every bit as valuable and talented as Ozzie Smith was, Omar Vizquel has never gotten enough credit. He will probably never be in the Hall of Fame, which is criminal.
Vizquel should no longer be under any illusion that he will reach 3,000 hits, so do not be surprised if Vizquel retires rather than spend another year kicking around on the bench somewhere. If he does, please remember Vizquel as an all-time great shortstop.
We know there will be no room in the Bronx for Posada next season, and rightfully so. He is far past his prime.
He can still hit a bit, though, and can catch occasionally. Therefore, he will be a modestly courted free agent. The Mariners, needing offense at all times, will be the team to hop on Posada and pay him to (mostly) DH.
Guerrero is a case very different from Jim Thome. Unlike Thome, Guerrero does not have much in the way of secondary skills to support himself as his bat slows down. Unlike Thome, Guerrero expects pretty big money. Most importantly, unlike Thome, Guerrero is not much good anymore. He posted a below-average offensive season in 2011 as a full-time DH.
He also became the all-time hits leader for Dominican-born ball players, which is a terrific achievement and should serve as a nice capstone for his career. No one will sign Guerrero this winter, and he will involuntarily retire to await well-deserved enshrinement in Cooperstown.
The Cubs will search high and low for a taker for Carlos Zambrano as soon as the World Series ends. It would be wonderful if they found such a team, especially if they found them quickly.
Here's the problem: Baseball executives, generally speaking, are not stupid. No one will bite on Carlos Zambrano, and the Cubs will be forced to watch him pitch for someone else next season while he remains on their payroll at $18 million.
Jerry DiPoto deserves a full-time GM job. Many felt he should have been allowed to keep the one he got on an interim basis in Arizona. He will be passed over for the early and obvious openings, but after the Astros dump Wade, DiPoto will get his overdue chance to build a ball club himself.
Last winter, it was Carl Crawford who signed for seven years and over $20 million per annum. This winter, it will be Reyes, whose track record suggests he is basically Carl Crawford at shortstop.
Reyes deserves more money as a player, but the twin concerns of Reyes's health and the Crawford debacle in Boston will mitigate that potential and pull Reyes down into Crawford territory. Batting champion or not, Reyes is a singularly talented, athletic player, and the Giants will splurge to make sure he keeps their weak offense running the next few years.
Questions have swirled about the Giants' intentions since Posey's season ended in hideous fashion in May. Clearly, though, his bat can sustain the loss of value that comes with the move to first base, and if he can stay healthy and play 25 more games per season because of that shift, it's well worth it.
The move makes even more sense if the team does sign Reyes, because that would set them up for serious contention in 2012, and Posey could best be a part of that by playing every day at first.
Just as Justin Upton prepares to get the Ryan Braun treatment, Starlin Castro will get an Upton-model extension this winter. His service time, stats and skills are comparable to Upton's standing just before hie signed a six-year, $51-million deal to stay in Arizona back in March 2010.
He is the future of the franchise, and lest the Cubs lose out on their top free-agent targets, Castro's signing will offer optimism to Cubs fans.
True five-tool players come along approximately never. The Pirates have one in place, and it's time they ensure they can build around Andrew McCutchen.
This winter, savvy young GM Neal Huntington will make that dream reality, inking McCutchen for six years and $72 million or so, something in the vein of Hanley Ramirez's deal with the Marlins. Pittsburgh's young arms will then have only to reach the big leagues in order to take advantage of a Pirates offense better anchored than it has been since Barry Bonds cut town.
B.J. Upton has no ceiling. He can be anything, and one day, if properly motivated, he probably will be a superstar again.
In the meantime, though, watch carefully. Andrew Friedman is about to perform one of his greatest tricks yet as head honcho of Rays baseball and transaction wizard. He will trade Upton, whom the Rays are too poor to keep anyway, for two useful prospects in the Nationals organization. Derek Norris is a catching prospect I have heard compared repeatedly to Mickey Tettleton, while Peacock is a prospect via performance who blossomed in 2011.
Upton will be an asset to a Nationals team that could realistically win the NL East or Wild Card next season, but the Rays will win this trade.
The Rays will be busy this winter, but this trade is not out of necessity. It is out of luxury. Friedman will ship unneeded James Shields across the state to Miami, and in return, will fill a critical need on his 2012 squad by securing first baseman Logan Morrison.
The Marlins have not understood or utilized Morrison well, but the Rays will, and meanwhile the Marlins will have a shiny new co-ace for their starting rotation entering a season in which they need it.
The Yankees desperately need Sabathia and will not let him get away. The problem is that everyone knows that, and the Rangers and Red Sox have the deep pockets and desire to bid up Sabathia's services in a big way.
The Yankees will get Sabathia for the long haul, but it says here they will regret that deal in a big way.
This rumor has been shot down for the time being, with Reds GM Walt Jocketty vehemently denying any plans to move his star first baseman. It will happen anyway.
The Reds have Yonder Alonso around, who can slug for minimum dollars the next two years. Meanwhile, the team owes Votto something like $28 million in that span. Votto is the better player, but Alonso the better value, and the Reds will trade the 2010 NL MVP for a portion of the huge stockpile of pitching talent the Blue Jays have in the low minor leagues. The Jays, in return, will get to pair Votto with Jose Bautista. Look out, world.
Those who decry the pursuit of Fielder as folly for a Cubs team a long way from contention miss the point of a long-term contract.
These were not given out by owners merely to lure players to their club rather than an opponent's because of job security. They are about long-term investments. Fielder is just 27, going on 28, and it does not matter if he does not lead the Cubs to the World Series in 2012. He could do so just as well in 2015.
The Cubs will pay up to lock Fielder down for the next eight seasons, even at such a royal cost.
It still feels like Pujols will return to St. Louis, but the team will have to do much, much better than the offers they made to him before this season in order to get a deal done.
Ryan Howard will earn $25 million per year over the next five years. Mark Teixeira got $180 million total on a contract with the Yankees. Pujols is demonstrably, substantially better than either player, so he needs to make more than $25 million per year over at least eight seasons based on precedent.
This will be the most fun number of the winter to watch. The longer the Cubs linger before choosing Fielder, the harder a bargain Pujols can drive.